Challenges and Opportunities for the Development of Social Sciences and Humanities in Iran

In Iran, the academic fields of Social Sciences and the Humanities have been subject of suspicion and monitoring by all non-democratic states. Particularly, in the past 36 years, these academic fields have become target of constant attacks by the ruling theocracy that considers ontology, epistemology, and social policy-making as prerogative of the state-endorsed ideology only. The Humanities and Social Sciences, especially free and critical thinking promoted by them are perceived as threatening and Westernized phenomena, thus in need of ideological inspection, scrutiny, and Islamization. Therefore, any fields of knowledge-production that deal with human beings, society, and culture have faced state-imposed constraints. In this panel six scholars will address various aspects of the challenges and opportunities that the Humanities and Social Sciences are facing in contemporary Iran. As a theologian and new-Islamic thinker, Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari will examine the basic question of whether an Islamic Science is possible and if the Islamists in Iran have actually been able to achieve such a goal. As an expert of the educational system in Iran, Saeed Paivandi will review the meaning and trajectory of Islamization of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As an expert in gender and development studies, Nayereh Tohidi will present a case study by focusing on the state of the interdisciplinary field of Women and Gender Studies in Iran, illustrating the paradoxes and contradictions in the process of development and operation of such an academic field under a political system that has shown little tolerance toward feminism. As an expert in political science, Ata Hoodashtian will explain the significance of two core elements of human sciences, “critical thought” and “subject actor,” and their necessity for civil society building. He will discuss how the old cultural and political barriers (Islamic and non-Islamic) have worked against the capacity for independent critical thinking. Mohammad-Reza Nikfar, a philosopher and political thinker will present a critical analysis on the unfortunate and fortunate aspects of the state of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Iran while proposing some ideas for change. Finally, Sadegh Zibakalam, a Political Scientist currently teaching at the University of Tehran in Iran, will share his first-hand experiences and observations on the challenges facing social sciences in Iran. We hope this will offer a thought-provoking roundtable that can stimulate active dialogue between the audience and panelists as well as among the panelists. We believe by Touraj Atabaki, historian and current President of AIS, as the Chair/Moderator of this panel, we can succeed in presenting a very engaging, effective and instructive session.